Today, I plan to research, write and edit my client’s copy.
Today, I plan to research, write, and edit my client’s copy.
The only difference in these two versions is the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, which appears after the word “write” in the second version.
Which is the correct way to write that sentence? Well, the answer is — it depends… on which style your client wants you to use.
If you’re writing in AP — or Associated Press — style, the first sentence is correct — without the Oxford comma. If you’re using Chicago style, the second sentence is correct.
What difference does it make?
While at first it may seem like a minor difference that’s not really important, the reality is… what style you write in can be very important to your client.
For instance, look at the B2B Writing Success website. There are dozens of writers providing copy every month. If some writers are using AP style, while others are using Chicago style, the differences could be jarring for readers.
When a company follows a style, it helps provide consistency in the writing received from all contributors. This will give your readers an easier and more pleasurable experience and could lead to their staying on your site longer and eventually clicking through on your call-to-action.
Styles are documented in a style guide. It’s a document that provides guidelines for the way a brand should be presented from both a graphic and language perspective. And to become your client’s go-to copywriter, you should follow their preferred style.
There are actually four main style guides. (Notice, the word “four” is spelled out, not the numeric “4”…)
- AP — created by the Associated Press news service, it was developed for writers in news and PR organizations. Most media companies use this style.
- Chicago — is primarily used by authors, editors, and publishers of books and magazines.
- APA — created by the American Psychological Association, this is primarily used by the scientific community for academic documents and scholarly journals.
- MLA — created by the Modern Language Association, this is most often used by writers for the humanities and English studies in academic documents and scholarly journals.
Most clients in the B2B world will base their style on either AP or Chicago style.
Six main differences between AP and Chicago Style
- Oxford or Serial Comma
As mentioned above, this is the comma that appears before a conjunction — such as “and” or “or” — in a series. It’s used in Chicago style and omitted in AP style.
- AP — space, three periods, space. Ex., Oxford comma… don’t use it in AP style.
- Chicago — space between each period, with an additional space before and after. Ex., Oxford comma . . . use it in Chicago style.
- Em Dashes
- AP — space before and after. Ex., Oxford comma — don’t use it in AP style.
- Chicago — no spaces before or after. Ex., Oxford comma—use it in Chicago style.
- AP — book, magazine, and movie titles are in quotes. Ex., “Barefoot Writer”
- Chicago — most titles are in italics. Ex., Barefoot Writer
- Possessive Apostrophes
Deciding whether to use an apostrophe “s” or just the apostrophe for nouns that end with an “s” is complicated and depends on whether the noun is singular, plural, or proper.
- Singular nouns
- AP and Chicago — if the word after the noun does not begin with an “s”, use apostrophe “s”. Ex., Associated Press’s version
- AP — if the word after the noun begins with an “s”, just use an apostrophe. Ex., Associated Press’ style
- Plural nouns
- AP and Chicago — just use an apostrophe. Ex., clients’ work
- Proper nouns
- AP — just use an apostrophe. Ex., Sandy Franks’ projects
- Chicago — use the apostrophe “s”. Ex., Sandy Franks’s projects
- AP — spell out numbers one through nine; use numerals for numbers 10 and up. Ex., She has 12 clients, including five on retainer.
- Chicago — spell out numbers one through 99; use numerals for numbers 100 and up. Ex., She has twelve clients, including five on retainer.
Choosing the Right Style
Start by asking your client which style they use or prefer. If they don’t have a preference, look at their website and see if one style is more predominant than the other.
Alternatively, suggest a style. Base this on what you think their audience would prefer. The majority of people are used to reading news sites, so many companies use AP style. But you might opt for Chicago style if your client’s audience is educators.
The key is to be consistent with your style. If you’re using AP style for numbers, you don’t want to use Chicago style for the Oxford comma. You want to use the same style throughout your copy.
Creating a House Style
Many companies create their own style guide for their writers to follow. It’s usually based on either AP or Chicago style, then supplemented with their own preferences. We’ll address how to create a company style guide in the next article.
While using AP or Chicago style may sound complicated, there are online resources to help you. Both organizations offer multiple purchase options. AP’s stylebook (www.apstylebook.com) starts at $21 and Chicago’s manual (www.chicagomanualofstyle.org) starts at $39.